The Memphis Grizzlies may be the back-to-back reigning Southwest Division champions but Wednesday night’s opener suggests that such a title may be a bit tougher to claim for a third time around.
Without the shot-creation abilities of Ja Morant (suspended) and the rebounding and defensive skills of Steven Adams (season-ending surgery), Taylor Jenkins’ squad struggled mightily during their home tilt against the Pelicans, as they shot a measley 41.8 percent from the field and 27.9 percent from deep while allowing New Orleans to register shooting splits of 47.1 and 43.8, respectively.
By the time the final buzzer sounded, Memphis held a seven-point deficit and, in turn, was bested by a final score of 111-104, thus handing them their first loss of the 2023-24 campaign.
Though fans and even some players may be looking back on the opening night affair and see it as being rather ugly, during his postgame presser newcomer Marcus Smart issued a sense of optimism as the team shuffles along through what remains of their remaining 81 games on the schedule.
Marcus Smart provides sense of optimism following Grizzlies loss to Pelicans
"“Definitely wasn’t the result we wanted but I’ve never seen a championship won or come close to winning in the first game,” Smart said. “We got 81 games left. It’s part of it, I’ve been doing this for a long time. We just wanted to see, you know, the fight we had in the end [where in] the third quarter we made a little run, fourth quarter we made a little run. They made shots, we missed some shots. We got some good looks. I think they had 25 second chance points as well. You know, there are some things to clean up but it’s the first game and it felt great.”"
As Smart alluded to, the Grizzlies did find themselves making some runs during the second half of action, and even outscored the Pelicans during this time frame 57-54.
Unfortunately, the 10-point advantage NOLA cultivated at the end of the second period, along with their 51-37 edge in the rebounding department (11-8 on the offensive glass) simply proved too much for them to overcome.
Without Adams in the mix, until they find a suitable replacement option at center (Xavier Tillman is a beloved backup, but he cannot be utilized as the team’s primary pivot), despite Smart’s optimism, one should expect these problems, at least in the rebounding department, to continue as the season wears on.
Despite the loss, however, the veteran guard did express that it was “great to be out there with those guys, just kind of getting a rhythm with them” while taking part in his debut regular season outing as a member of the Grizzlies.
Smart would finish off the night with 17 points, 3 assists, and 2 steals while shooting 54.5 percent from the field.